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Promoting adherence to Commonwealth political values and principles

The two years covered here, from July 2013 to June 2015, were a period of transformation for the Commonwealth Secretariat as we worked to translate into practical action our Strategic Plan from 2013/14 to 2016/17. The Plan is a clearly signposted roadmap, following implementation of the most fundamental reforms for a generation, both of the work we do and of the way we do it.

Commonwealth Secretariat outcomes: Democracy

  • Supported the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), including in its work with Fiji and Maldives, and in its efforts to enhance CMAG’s work to advance Commonwealth political values more proactively and positively with member countries
  • Supported the second Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN) biennial conference, ‘Managing Elections in the 21st Century: Strengthening Institutional Capacity and Electoral Integrity’. The Secretariat also further developed and supported on-line interaction between national election bodies on the CEN
  • Launched the Commonwealth Junior Election Professionals Initiative, which trained 40 professionals from 27 member states, all of whom recorded that their effectiveness had been materially strengthened
  • Observed elections in 19 member states, with recommendations provided for further strengthening of electoral processes in all of them.

Supporting the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was set up in 1995 to deal with serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s political values.The Group’s mandate was strengthened in 2011 when Heads of Government agreed to reforms that included clearer guidelines and timeframes, and a mandate to enable the Group to engage proactively and positively in areas of concern.

CMAG ‘circumstances’

The Secretariat developed new ways of briefing CMAG to ensure that the Group is better informed on developments in member countries where the eight non-exhaustive ‘circumstances’ of concern agreed by Heads of Government might arise. These circumstances include:

  • The unilateral abrogation of a democratic constitution or serious threats to constitutional rule;
  • The suspension or prevention of the lawful functioning of parliament or other key democratic institutions;
  • The postponement of national elections without constitutional or other reasonable justification;
  • The systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression;
  • A national electoral process that is seriously flawed;
  • The abrogation of the rule of law or undermining of the independence of the judiciary;
  • The systematic violation of human rights of the population, or of any communities or groups, by the member government concerned; and,
  • Significant restrictions on the media or civil society that prevent them from playing their legitimate role.

The Commonwealth Secretariat strengthened its engagement and assistance to member countries where the Commonwealth’s political values and commitments were deemed to be under particular stress, including in Fiji and Maldives.

The Group, in its role as the custodian of Commonwealth values, welcomed the Secretariat’s technical support for preparations ahead of the September 2014 Parliamentary elections in Fiji, which marked the restoration of civilian constitutional democratic rule. In September 2014, Fiji was reinstated as a full member of the Commonwealth.

Supporting the Secretary-General’s Good Offices for Peace

The Commonwealth Secretariat strengthened its capacity for analysis and proactive engagement in support of the Secretary-General’s Good Offices for Peace, providing advice and specialist technical assistance, where sought, to member countries. The Secretary-General worked personally, and through his Good Offices envoys and advisers, to promote adherence to the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values.

The Commonwealth Secretariat delivered capacity-building to conduct national dialogues, reduce tensions and promote harmonious relations between national stakeholders. In March 2014, the Commonwealth Secretariat organised a training course on Commonwealth Mediation and Negotiation Skills for five election management bodies in Durban, South Africa.

Good Offices

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Swaziland, the former President of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi, continued to advance practical measures aimed at implementing reforms already reflected in Swaziland’s revised constitution.

The Prime Minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha Mosisili, and the United Nations Development Programme praised the work of Good Offices in Lesotho, where the Secretary-General had deployed an adviser to support coalition governance.

Supporting fair, credible and inclusive elections

Commonwealth Observation Groups and Expert Teams were deployed to observe:

  • Guyana National and Regional Elections, 11 May 2015
  • Nigeria Presidential and National Assembly Elections, 28 March 2015
  • Lesotho National Assembly Election, 28 February 2015
  • Sri Lanka Presidential Election, 8 January 2015
  • Dominica General Election, 8 December 2014
  • Namibia Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, 28 November 2014
  • Solomon Islands National Parliamentary Election, 19 November 2014
  • Botswana General Election, 24 October 2014
  • Mozambique National and Provincial Elections, 15 October 2014
  • Antigua and Barbuda General Election, 12 June 2014
  • Malawi Tripartite Elections, 20 May 2014
  • South Africa National and Provincial Elections, 7 May 2014
  • Maldives People’s Majlis Election, 22 March 2014
  • Cameroon Legislative and Municipal Elections, 30 September 2013
  • Sri Lanka Northern Provincial Council Election, 21 September 2013
  • Swaziland National Election, 20 September 2013
  • Rwanda Legislative Election (Chamber of Deputies), 16–18 September 2013
  • Maldives Presidential Elections, Re-Run and Run-off, 7 September, 9 November and 16 November 2013
  • Pakistan Presidential Election, 30 July 2013

In 2013, the Office of the Commissioner of Elections of Sri Lanka invited the Commonwealth to send observers to witness landmark elections in the Northern Province. Feedback to members of the Commonwealth Group indicated that the presence and conduct of the observers had contributed significantly to an atmosphere of calm on Election Day, and in the days following. The Group’s recommendation to expand the role of local observers was implemented during the January 2015 Presidential Election, when Commonwealth observers were also present

Member countries adopt recommendations of Commonwealth Election Observer Groups

The Commonwealth Secretariat assisted member countries to develop electoral management institutions and improve the quality, credibility and management of electoral processes.

Kenya strengthened its election management board by making it more inclusive and transparent, improved voter registration and improved the procedure for resolving election disputes.

Maldives acted on recommendations of a Commonwealth Observer Group in 2013, setting up a National Elections Complaints Bureau and designing smaller polling stations to provide voters with greater privacy.

Malawi audited its voter register prior to the 2014 elections. Between the 2009 and 2014 elections, the Malawi Electoral Commission took note of a recommendation from a Commonwealth Observer Group regarding the slow processing of complaints and set up a Complaints Handling Unit. The new unit processed complaints in the 2014 election more quickly and efficiently than in previous elections.

Rwanda created greater choice for voters by establishing the Rwanda Governance Board, which enabled independent candidates and four new parties to stand in the 2013 parliamentary election.

The Commonwealth Electoral Network

The Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN), conceived by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and launched in 2010, aspires to a ‘gold standard’ of election management in the Commonwealth. The network promotes good practice in managing elections, facilitates peer-to-peer exchanges of experience and fosters the community of Commonwealth electoral management bodies. The Commonwealth Secretariat continued to support the work of the CEN in developing the capacity of Commonwealth election management bodies to conduct fair, credible and inclusive elections. Commonwealth Connects, the Commonwealth’s online collaboration platform, hosts secure workspaces for members of the CEN to promote peer-to-peer networking and support.

In June 2014, the Secretariat supported the second Commonwealth Electoral Network biennial conference, ‘Managing Elections in the 21st Century: Strengthening Institutional Capacity and Electoral Integrity’, in Nairobi, Kenya. Delegates from 36 of the Commonwealth’s national electoral management boards shared best practices, practical experiences, ideas and technical expertise. Links nurtured and strengthened through the Commonwealth Electoral Network are a powerful and practical illustration of Commonwealth networking as a global good.

Junior Election Professionals Initiative

Nurturing junior election professionals is key to developing a cadre of highly skilled election administrators committed to Commonwealth political values and principles. In response to a request from members of the CEN, and made possible through the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Commonwealth Secretariat launched the Commonwealth Junior Election Professionals Initiative in July 2013.

As a result, a pan-Commonwealth pilot workshop for junior election professionals was held in India in October 2013, co-hosted by the Election Commission of India, and a Commonwealth-Pacific regional workshop in Canberra was organised in partnership with the Australian Electoral Commission, in March 2014.

The two workshops brought together around 40 junior election professionals from 27 Commonwealth election management bodies, over half of whom were women, to examine difficult but critical issues such as voter registration, boundary delineation, incumbency, the challenges and opportunities of new technology, and working with political parties. Three further regional workshops took place for the Caribbean and Americas in 2014 and Africa and Asia in 2015. Members continue conversations through the Commonwealth Connects online platform.